The first signs of spring are found in Hokkaido in April. Butterbur sprouts come up despite the remaining snow, and visitors can enjoy sunshine while watching rivers swollen with water by the melting of the snow. Spring finally arrives in towns despite snow still on the mountains. Cherry blossoms and ume (plum) blossoms are all in bloom together in early May, and after that, lustrous fresh green leaves start to sprout.
Cherry blossoms bloom between late April and mid May. Go to see cherry blossoms in full bloom by checking the flowering-time information on the Web site. Check out the Shibazakura (Moss pink) which makes an amazing carpet of pink, in and around Kutchan.
The melting snow swells the rivers, making it the most thrilling time of year to go rafting and shoot the rapids, as well as enjoying late season skiing and some sunshine and outdoor Ghenghis Khan (lamb barbecue) on the slopes. A huge festival of Yosakoi traditional peasant dancing in Sapporo, in June, heralds the start of the summer.
Hokkaido’s summers are short but, because they are dry and not so humid, provide a popular retreat from the heat of other parts of Japan, and are ideal for a variety of outdoor activities.
In summer, Hokkaido hosts flowers of red, yellow, pink, purple and other hues all blooming together, painting the vast land with their beautiful colors, while refreshing green is everywhere. Fields of lavender grow around Furano and Biei, and fields of lilies in western Sapporo.
Many local and unique events are offered in the regions all over Hokkaido to take full advantage of its short summer. Japanese summer festivals and fireworks are a wonderful opportunity to wear a simple cotton kimono, known as a yukata, and eat special festival foods while watching the activities. Niseko has an amazing array of fresh, delicious produce to enjoy at restaurants and cafes, or barbecues. Rafting, hiking, fishing, golf, horse-riding, mountain-biking, sea-kayak and all sorts of outdoor sports are available. Peaceful walks, bird-spotting, and outdoor yoga are all great ways to enjoy a slower pace. Beer gardens open in many towns including Niseko and Sapporo.
Hokkaido in autumn has colorful leaves, and is a treasure trove of food, with bountiful harvest from the mountains and seas. Visitors to Niseko can enjoy potatoes, corn, kabocha pumpkin, peppers, onions, salmon, Pacific saury, apples, plums and grapes, local tofu, soba, pork and eggs, and a vast range of more specialty produce – from smoked salmon, rhubarb, haskapp and yakon, to ostrich wieners! Harvest festivals are held throughout Hokkaido, providing excellent opportunities to taste local specialties. The cooler weather makes it appealing to go out and try something more energetic, so why not rent a bicycle and explore the area?
If you are lucky, you might be in Niseko for the first snowfall, when the reds, oranges and golds of the trees are set aglow by sunshine sparkling off the snow-white ground.
Why not drive from Niseko up to Niki, or Yoichi, famous as places where fruit-picking programs are available, with apples, plums and grapes (and cherries in summer) the main fruits. Yoichi also has a world-renowned whisky distillery for a warming experience! Outdoor fun, such as canoeing on beautiful lakes, or SUP (stand-up paddling), is also recommended. Makkari village near Niseko holds an all-you-can-harvest festival for you to pick your own potatoes and other vegetables. Niseko offers nature walks, cozy cafes and hand-craft experiences, or alternatively, paintball, zip-wire, segway and other activities for the adventurous.
In December, not only mountain regions but also urban areas are covered with snow. Although it is the beginning of a long and cold winter, travelers have the chance to enjoy a true winter wonderland.
Silvery landscapes of beautiful pure-white snow makes travelers feel as if they have come to another dimension, well beyond the ordinary experience. Ice and snow sculpture festivals, lit up at night in towns across Hokkaido draw tourists from all over the world. Why not enjoy the unique chance to relax and watch the snow fall, from warmth of a hot spring bath?
The most popular winter activities in Hokkaido are skiing and snowboarding amid the highest-quality powder snow. Now is the time to hike and ski Mount Yotei with a guide, for an unforgettable day in nature. Various winter events such as the Sapporo Snow Festival are popular. Kutchan holds a fun snow festival near to Niseko, including local foods, snowman photo contests and skiers and snowboarders “water skimming” in costume! Enjoy Japanese winter cooking such as hotpot, shabu shabu, hot soba or udon, and Hokkaido specialities such as soup curry, Ghenghis Khan barbecue and miso ramen. As an alternative to skiing, why not try a winter snow-shoe hike, snowmobiling or the many types of sight-seeing tours available?